Mountain Azalea blooming on the slopes of Sasaone, Oku-Chichibu, Tokyo, Japan, 2000
One thing I’ve been missing is that sense of raw expectation that infuses wild places, that prescience exuding from the interaction between unseen, but watchful presences, where even the wind takes on the personality of a living entity. In the city this only rarely manifests itself and it is a rare gift when it happens.
Lately I’ve taken to running to my sports club and then walking home, both along the banks of the Noh River, which runs northwest and southeast through the western half of Tokyo. Though most of the river has been encased in a concrete cast, earthen banks, resembling European towpaths, run along the sides, with stairs leading down to them for those who want to walk their dog, watch birds, or just go for a run. Hardy grasses, reeds, and scattered trees flourish where the water stills or doesn’t often reach, and among them all sorts of wildlife, mostly birds, carry out their lives. When you walk along the banks, down below the busy passage of the human world above, you get an almost palpable feeling that the awareness of the creatures around you arises out of a connection to a past memory that characterized the whole landscape all around you in years gone by. It is their world you have entered, and with each skittish creature waddling away or bursting into the air you further sense your disengagement from the symbiosis of the organic world.
It was raining when I started home from the sports club the other day. The first rain since the start of winter and a much needed slaking of the soil’s thirst. The workout with weights and the long push with the stairmaster, and afterwards the solitary soak in the great Japanese bath, left my muscles radiating with heat and, in spite of the chill of the wind and the rain, walking along the path stirred up exhilaration. The air smelled green with new leaves and bitter with earth. The wind scythed in the sky, muscling at invisible impedances, bullroaring, knocking, bellowing. Shivers of wavelets raced across the river’s surface, as if invisible wings were darting by.
There is an old cherry tree leaning out across one section of the river and that day its branches carrying the first knots of swelling blossom buds. I stopped and just stood there, letting the rain drop its curtain of silence all around me, while I watched nothing in particular. Some Spot-billed Ducks. a pair of newly arrived Green-Winged Teals, a stately Intermediate Egret, and a self-conscious Great Cormorant splashed in the grey water, each in their own world, watchful. A bare bank of clay, into which a Common Kingfisher, brilliant turquoise in the sun, had burrowed, stood unmoving, no hint of any life.
And that was it. Just me in that place with the wind blowing, rain pattering on my head, and birds minding their own business. No grand adventures or dramatic international crises. Just me and the river. But it was enough… For that small instant I felt connected to everything and whole. Completely empty of myself. It was an echo of the world as it wants to be.